PhillyInc: Smaller mergers are signals, too

Billion-dollar deals may grab all the attention, but it's when smaller firms with unfamiliar names get snapped up that I start thinking the merger market may be popping.

PricewaterhouseCoopers L.L.P. tallied 1,276 announced transactions with a total value of $454 billion during the first five months of 2011. Over the same period of 2010, there were 1,336 transactions worth $327 billion.

Now that suggests fewer deals are getting done for more money. But for both years, more than 36 percent of the deals struck have been for less than $1 billion, or transactions involving smaller companies. That's a higher percentage than the 23 percent to 28 percent during the 2005 to 2007 boom years.

And data tracked by the National Venture Capital Association also show an uptick in M&A activity among businesses that have attracted venture investment. Most of those companies could be considered small businesses. The trade group counted 109 venture-backed M&A deals in the first quarter; most of them were in the information-technology sector.

One such IT firm that would get counted in the second quarter is the venture-backed ClickEquations Inc., which has about a dozen employees in Conshohocken. It was acquired by Channel Intelligence Inc., of Celebration, Fla., for an undisclosed amount.

Using the federal government's 500-employee threshold for small business, here are a few other deals that have been either announced or completed within the last month:

Philadelphia Gear Corp., of King of Prussia, was acquired in late May by the Timken Co., of Canton, Ohio, for $200 million. The privately held provider of gear drives has 220 employees and $85 million in annual revenue.

New Penn Financial L.L.C., a Plymouth Meeting mortgage lender with more than 400 employees, was bought in early June by New York-based Shellpoint Partners L.L.C. No terms were announced.

Multiband Corp., of Minneapolis, agreed June 16 to acquire WPCS International Inc., an Exton engineering and construction firm focused on the wireless industry, in a cash transaction valued at $22.3 million. WPCS has about $100 million in annual revenue and about 500 employees.

Turn on the sun

Maybe I'm noticing it more because it's summer, but there have been a lot of large solar-generation projects lately.

At the end of May, Siemens Energy Inc. said it had been hired by a New York investment company to build a solar farm in Eastampton, Burlington County. Scheduled for completion in September, the power plant would have a 3-megawatt peak.

Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals L.P. announced the completion of a 7,300 solar-panel installation on its Wilmington corporate campus June 17. That's a 1.7-megawatt peak project on building rooftops, the top of a parking garage, and a nearby field.

Finally, Snyder's-Lance Inc., the big pretzel and snack-food manufacturer, said work is done on its 3.5-megawatt solar farm across from its corporate headquarters in Hanover, Pa. With 15,092 solar panels for that project, I'm glad I didn't have to count them.


Contact Mike Armstrong

at 215-854-2980 or Read his blog, "PhillyInc," at